Times Union: Medical marijuana effort sprouts again

Thomas K. Duane

March 03, 2010

By RICK KARLIN, Capitol bureau

ALBANY -- In Capitol parlance, it's known as an "evergreen" -- a bill or idea that seems to sprout up each year, but never blooms into law.

While marijuana certainly isn't an evergreen plant, efforts to legalize its use for medicinal purposes have been before the state Legislature for several years. On Tuesday it came up again in the Senate Health Committee, which moved the bill to Codes, the last stop before it could come up for debate.

Because the Assembly has already passed a similar measure, supporters of the bill hope the Senate, which is now under Democratic control, will pass the law. They also point to neighboring New Jersey where lawmakers last month voted to allow the use of medicinal marijuana.

"There is greater interest than usual in this piece of legislation," Sen. Tom Duane, D-Manhattan, said Tuesday after the bill was voted out of the Health Committee, which he chairs.

When asked if he agreed with supporters who believe that a Democratic Senate increases the odds of passage, Duane grimaced and said he didn't want to make any predictions for fear that it would be a jinx.

His caution was well-founded. Best known as the Senate's major supporter of a law to allow same-sex marriage, Duane worked non-stop for more than a year to bring that bill to a vote only to see it voted down 38-24 last December.

Supporters of the medical marijuana bill hope their legislation will avoid a similar fate.

"The tides are just turning," said Evan Nison, co-director of New York Patients First. He pointed to New Jersey as well as to a Quinnipiac University poll earlier this month that found New Yorkers by a 71 percent to 25 percent margin believe medical marijuana is a "good idea."

It's no secret that some people already use marijuana to ease some disease symptoms.

"I have a constant eye pressure -- pain behind my eyes," said Tim Cerrone of Amsterdam, who has multiple sclerosis. Smoking marijuana, he said, helps ease the ache.

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